Hewlett-Packard was one of the pioneers of portable computers, releasing a laptop in 1987. Soon after Apple introduced the first-ever battery-powered laptop in 1989. The convenience of a laptop computer drove productivity and opened a portal toward working on the road. Excel spreadsheets became the fashion with financial managers and then mobile phones and later, tablets have expanded the portal even further to create 24/7 communication, and the expectation that you are always available.
Technology is now embedded in classrooms; smartboards, sparkling web-based applications, personal devices, and the low drone of electricity buzzing around the room. The advent of school-based management platforms and the omnipresent portal has changed the work of school leaders forever.
School budgets, compliance deadlines, school planning and reporting are at the fingertips of school leaders. Data that is required to evaluate and guide school performance is regularly being updated. Electronic newsletters and online forms provide multimodal access to school services, and emails and commercial applications connect teachers and families. The blending of remote learning and face-to-face teaching has changed the work of teachers and school leaders. Teachers’ workload is bursting in efforts to meet the increasing needs of students.
The temptation to check emails, text or listen to a missed call is driving unhealthy and unproductive behaviours. New research indicates that despite thinking we can multitask, switching between tasks is in fact diminishing performance rather than enhancing it. With that thought in mind, how often do you shut the door to your office with the intention to focus on responding to emails or budget reports and other administrative tasks? A knock on the door, an unexpected outage of internet services, or any one of the other competing priorities call for your direct attention and drag your work into the next day, and then, the weekend.
Increasing workload is a significant factor that has been identified in discussions around the shortage of teachers and lack of ability to retain educators. Reforms to school planning and management and increased in-school support have been discussed and paraded around in the media. This in turn has created a welcome change to the perception of teacher workload. Ideas, reforms and changing public perception are great if and when they might be realised.
Taking time to unwind and engage with life outside of school should be the time when schoolwork is switched off. The emails will be there after the weekend. Deadlines for budget reports and access requests will be there after the weekend. Physical and emotional self-care is the first step toward creating a healthy work/life balance and absolutely necessary if we want to address making sure we have the very best people educating students now and in the future.
Leaving the laptop at school is a necessary first step toward a work/life that is part of your ‘best life’.